Landowners Suing Enbridge & Charcoal Grill vs. Gas

  • Neal Fisher only uses charcoal for his summer grilling (Photo by Jennifer Guerra)

Enbridge Energy plans to build a bigger oil pipeline across the state. The company says, not only will it be bigger and move more oil. They say it will also be safer than the line that broke in 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the first phase of the project last May, but some landowners have sued. They say they weren’t properly notified that the construction work could force them to give up more land. And that Enbridge could remove more trees.

Transcript

Enbridge asked the Court of Appeals to drop that lawsuit, but this week, the court denied that request, and the case will go forward.

Katy Bodenmiller owns land with an easement for the oil pipeline.

She’s not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but Bodenmiller says the court’s decision to let the case go forward feels like a small victory.

“I think at the very least in the absence of leadership on this issue in this state from our public officials, this suit can perhaps force Enbridge to answer some questions that they have up to this point been able to side step,” said Bodenmiller.

The lawyer representing the landowners in the case, Gary Field, says the court’s decision will give homeowners an opportunity to have their say.

An Enbridge spokesman says this case might not be decided until sometime next year. In the meantime, they’re moving forward with construction.

They say details of the project were laid out in their application to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2009)

Neal Fisher thinks he’s an environmentally friendly kind of guy. He and his wife recycle, they use compact fluorescent light bulbs in the house, they walk most places and hardly ever use their car.

But when it comes to outdoor grilling… it’s charcoal all the way.

“It may be a little decadent when you’re taking the environment into consideration, but I do it.”

On tonight’s menu, it’s burgers, Jamaican jerk chicken, onions, and asparagus. Everything is grilled on basic, 22 ½ inch Weber kettle.

“Nothing fancy, no frills,” says Fisher.

To get the fire started, Fisher throws about 7 or 8 pounds of hardwood lump charcoal into a chimney starter.

“I don’t use the lighter fluid, I just use the charcoal chimney. I figure if I’m going to be cooking wood, I don’t want to cook a lot of chemicals too. So that’s something. I don’t kid myself that this is at all healthy for the world,” says Fisher. “

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To find out if Fisher really is a carbon Sasquatch, I called up Eric Johnson in Switzerland.

“Basically the footprint of using charcoal is about 3 times higher than the footprint of gas,” says Johnson.

Johnson published a study in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review. In it, he compared the carbon dioxide emissions – or carbon footprint – of the two most popular types of grills: charcoal and propane gas.

When it comes to straight up carbon emissions – gas grills win hands down. Run your gas grill for an hour; emit 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Use charcoal briquettes for an hour of grilling; emit a whopping 11 pounds of CO2.

Fair enough.

But what if we look at the total carbon cycle of propane gas, a fossil fuel and charcoal, which is a bio fuel?

For that answer, we’ll turn to Bill Currie. He’s a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan.

“You have to think about, can we replace the carbon back in the pool that charcoal came from? Can we replace it biologically over a reasonable period of time? And with charcoal, the answer is yes, we can re-grow those trees,” says Currie.

That’s because charcoal is made out of wood, which is a renewable energy source. So if charcoal is harvested locally in a sustainable way, the re-grown trees can absorb the CO2 – which makes charcoal essentially carbon neutral. So charcoal made out of wood which is renewable. Propane gas on the other hand is made from oil. Not renewable.

“Fuels that are based on coal, oil, petroleum based fuel, it’s not possible to put that CO2 back where it was biologically in a reasonable amount of time. And that’s the big difference,” says Currie.

But does any of this really matter? I mean, how important is grilling in the overall environmental scheme of things. Well Currie says it’s definitely not a big-ticket item like, say, the size of your house or the number of cars you have.

“It’s probably a small factor in the whole analysis. But at the same time, we make dozens or hundreds of these choices a day. And if we know that one alternative is better than another, these little things do matter because they add up,” says Currie.

Co-Opting “Cap and Dividend”

  • Senator Maria Cantwell says something has to be done to push the country toward alternative sources of energy – and away dependence on polluting fossil fuels. (Photo courtesy of the NREL, Warren Gretz)

A new climate change bill will be introduced next week. It’s expected to be very complicated because of so many competing interests. Critics say it won’t pass. Julie Grant reports another much shorter and simpler bill in the Senate is getting some overdue attention:

Transcript

A new climate change bill will be introduced next week. It’s expected to be very complicated because of so many competing interests. Critics say it won’t pass. Julie Grant reports another much shorter and simpler bill in the Senate is getting some overdue attention.

Carbon emissions come from smokestacks, tailpipes and all kinds of manufacturing processes. It’s considered the biggest culprit in the greenhouse gas pollution contributing to climate change.

We’ve heard a lot about a possible cap and trade program to reduce carbon emissions. The House of Representatives passed a cap and trade bill last summer, but it hasn’t gone far in the Senate. Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, an independent, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican have been working on a bill for months.

But a simple bill called The CLEAR Act introduced last December has been is gaining interest. Senator Maria Cantwell is a Democrat from Washington State. She co-sponsored the bill with Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

Cantwell says something has to be done to push the country toward alternative sources of energy – and away dependence on polluting fossil fuels. That’s why they’re pushing the bill, called cap and dividend:

“We’re saying we think it’s very important to have a simple approach that the American people can understand. a 41-page bill is a lot about getting people to understand how this can work and helping us make a transition.”

Like cap and trade, the CLEAR Act would limit carbon emissions—it would put a cap on them. But it’s different from the complicated cap-and-trade plan that would target those who use energy and allow for many kinds of loopholes.

The Cantwell and Collins cap and dividend plan would concentrate on those who produce energy from fossil fuels. It would cap carbon at the tanker bringing in imported oil, the mine extracting coal, the oil and gas at the well head.

It would charge those energy producers for permits. Each year the number of permits would be reduced, so theoretically, the amount of carbon pollution would be gradually reduced.

Twenty-five percent of the money from the permits would go toward a clean energy fund. The other 75-percent would be paid at a flat rate to each person in the nation to offset higher energy prices.

So, fossil fuel energy would be more expensive, but families would get money to offset the higher costs.

Cantwell says no matter what we do, even if we do nothing, energy costs are going to rise. She says people want to know what to expect in their energy bills.

“What they want to know is how do you make that transition with the least impact to people and that’s what the Clear act is about; it’s about making a stable transition, and helping consumers along the way not get gouged by high energy prices.”

Many economists and environmentalists like the cap and dividend idea.

Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham have said they’ll fold some elements of cap and dividend into their massive proposal.

Darren Samuelsohn is the Energy and Environment Reporter for GreenWire. He says the three Senators are taking a comprehensive look at carbon pollution in relation to the entire U.S. energy policy.

“They’ve been meeting as a group of three behind closed doors working to try and satisfy the needs for a price on carbon emissions, across multiple sectors of the economy–power plants, heavy manufacturing and transportation.”

And they’re using bits and pieces of the Cantwell-Collins proposal.

Senators Cantwell and Collins say they don’t want their bill

cannibalized by that large scale bill.

One reason Cantwell is concerned is that the Kerry, Lieberman Graham bill allows trading permits. She says trading hasn’t worked in the European system. And she’s concerned it will make the price of carbon vulnerable to speculators who could drive the prices up artificially.

Instead, she wants carbon prices decided at monthly federal auctions.

Cantwell says the time is right for a simple, predictable bill like the CLEAR Act.

“You don’t have to ahve a 2-thousand page bill and figure out how many allowances you have to give away in the back room to make somebody believe in this. This is a concept the American people can understand and one they can support.”

On Monday, the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is expected to be introduced. The vote will be very close, so they can’t afford to ignore what Senators Cantwell and Collins want.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Climate Bill to Cut EPA Authority

  • Some senators say to pass any bill, they have to cut the EPA's authority, but environmental groups say this would be a mistake. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons GNU 1.2)

A big climate-change bill will be introduced in the U-S Senate next week.
Shawn Allee reports it’s expected to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases:

Transcript

A big climate-change bill will be introduced in the U-S Senate next week.

Shawn Allee reports it’s expected to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

Congress worked on climate bills for more than a year, but all that time, the US Environmental Protection Agency worked on its plans.

EPA’s got authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on its own.

It’s doing that in case Congress waits too long or legislation’s too weak.

But some senators say to pass any, bill, they have to cut EPA’s authority.

Environmental groups say this would be a mistake.

Howard Learner is with The Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The only justification to constrain the US EPA’s ability to do it’s job and do it well under the Clean Air Act is if Congress steps up in a comprehensive, thorough, durable, way to protect our public health and protect our environment.”

Lerner says we don’t know whether Congress’ approach to climate change will work, so the EPA should keep some power over greenhouse gas emissions … as a kind of back-stop.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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New Bi-Partisan Climate Change Bill

  • Darren Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power to come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal. (Photo courtesy of NREL)

A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports.

Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, an independent and Lindsey Graham, a Republican have been working behind closed doors for six months to draft a climate and energy bill. They’re supposed to release it next Monday.

Darren Samuelsohn covers Washington for ClimateWire. He says no one knows everything the bill will include… but some points have been revealed.

Samuelsohn: Price on carbon emissions across multiple sectors of the economy: power plants, heavy manufacturing and transportation and then trying to ramp up a range of domestic energy supplies from nuclear to natural gas to oil.

Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal.

Samuelsohn speculates this bill could pass in the Senate… but it will require some arm twisting and deal making by President Obama.

The Senate’s chief climate change denier, Republican James Inhofe told Fox News the bill won’t get half the votes it needs to pass.

For The Environment, I’m Lester Graham.

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Acidic Oceans Dissolving Shellfish Industry

  • Oceanographer Richard Feely says the shellfish industry is suffering in part because the more acidic seawater encourages the growth of a type of bacterium that kills oyster larvae.(Photo courtesy of the NOAA)

When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, about a third of it absorbs into the ocean. That creates carbonic acid—the stuff in soda pop that gives it that zing.

That means seawater is becoming more acidic.

Scientists say this ocean acidification is starting to cause big problems for marine life. And Ann Dornfeld reports that could affect your dinner plans.

Transcript

When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, about a third of it absorbs into the ocean. That creates carbonic acid—the stuff in soda pop that gives it that zing.

That means seawater is becoming more acidic.

Scientists say this ocean acidification is starting to cause big problems for marine life. And Ann Dornfeld reports that could affect your dinner plans.

Taylor Shellfish Farms has been growing oysters for more than a
century. And shucking them, one by one, by hand.

“An old profession. Y’know, they’ve tried for years to
find a way to mechanize it. There’s no way around it. Every oyster is
so unique in its size and shape.”

Bill Dewey is a spokesman for Taylor. The company is based in
Washington state. It’s one of the nation’s main producers of farmed
shellfish. Dewey says if you order oyster shooters in Chicago, or just
about anywhere else, there’s a good chance they came from Taylor.

But in the past couple of years, the company has had a hard time
producing juvenile oysters – called “seed.”

“Last year our oyster larvae production was off about 60
percent. This year it was off almost 80 percent. It’s a huge impact to
our company and to all the people that we sell seed to.”

Shellfish growers throughout the Pacific Northwest are having similar
problems with other kinds of oysters, and mussels, too. They suspect a
lot of it has to do with ocean acidification.

Richard Feely is a chemical oceanographer with the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration. He says when the pH of seawater drops
too low, it can hurt marine life.

“What we know for sure is that those organisms that
produce calcium carbonate shells such as lobsters, and clams and
oysters, and coral skeletons, they generally tend to decrease their
rate of formation of their skeletons.”

Feely says it looks like acidified waters are affecting oysters
because their larvae build shells with a type of calcium carbonate,
called aragonite, which dissolves more easily in corrosive water.

The more acidic seawater also encourages the growth of a type of
bacterium that kills oyster larvae.

Feely says the changes in the ocean’s pH are becoming serious. He
recently co-published a study on the results of a 2006 research cruise
between Hawaii and Alaska. It was identical to a trip the researchers
took in 1991. They found that in just 15 years, the ocean had become
five to six percent more acidic as a result of man-made CO2.

“If you think about it, a change of 5% in 15 years is a
fairly dramatic change. and it’s certainly humbling to see that in my
lifetime I can actually measure these changes on a global scale. These
are very significant changes.”

A couple years ago, Feely gave a talk at a conference of shellfish
growers. He explained the impact ocean acidification could have on
their industry. Bill Dewey with Taylor Shellfish Farms was there.

“All these growers were walking around with all these
really long faces, just very depressed. I mean it was a very eye-opening presentation and something that’s definitely had growers
paying attention since, that this could be a very fundamental problem
that we’re going to be facing for a long time to come.”

Dewey calls shellfish growers the “canary in the coalmine” for ocean
acidification.

Scientists say if humans don’t slow our release of CO2 into the
atmosphere, shellfish may move from restaurant menus into history
books.

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.

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Drilling for Climate Change

  • President Obama lifted the moratorium on offshore drilling last week, against the wishes of environmental groups. (Photo Courtesy of the US Minerals Management Service, Lee Tilton)

There’s been lots of speculation about why President Obama is allowing expanded gas and oil drilling offshore. Many environmentalists don’t like it. Lester Graham reports the move might be part of a larger strategy to get a climate bill passed in the Senate.

Transcript

There’s been lots of speculation about why President Obama is allowing expanded gas and oil drilling offshore. Many environmentalists don’t like it. Lester Graham reports the move might be part of a larger strategy to get a climate bill passed in the Senate.

President Obama never ruled out expanding drilling offshore, but it still caught a lot of people off-guard last week when he lifted the moratorium. John Prandato thinks he knows why he did. Prandato writes for the Partnership for a Secure America. In a recent article he argues it’s about the climate change and energy bill being pieced together by Senators John Kerry, Joesph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham has said a carbon cap-and-trade scheme such as the one in the House climate bill… is dead in the Senate. But maybe not… now…

“Graham has been a proponent of offshore drilling and he has said any climate change and energy bill would have to include expanded offshore drilling, which Obama has now made that concession. So, with any luck, this concession could revive cap-and-trade in the Senate. But, we’ll just have to see.”

Senator Graham says offshore drilling should be expanded further. The White House says the President is not “horse trading” to get a climate bill out of the Senate.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Decision Coming on Cape Wind

  • Bill Eddy of East Falmouth, Massachusetts, built his own schooner, and would one day soon like to sail through the proposed wind farm known as Cape Wind. (Photo by Curt Nickisch)

A decade-long fight over a proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts could be over soon. It’s called Cape Wind. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he will make a decision by the end of April. What would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm is bigger than a simple “not in my backyard” issue. It has divided communities and even neighbors. Curt Nickisch met two people, who’ve come down on opposite sides – both for environmental reasons.

Transcript

A decade-long fight over a proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts could be over soon. It’s called Cape Wind. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he will make a decision by the end of April.

What would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm is bigger than a simple “not in my backyard” issue. It has divided communities and even neighbors. Curt Nickisch met two people, who’ve come down on opposite sides – both for environmental reasons.

At 63-years-old, Bill Eddy has old-man-and-the-sea white hair. He’s been sailing all his life, including the waters where the 130 wind turbines would go up more than five miles offshore. He knows the wind’s power. And he’s willing to give up part of the horizon he loves for clean energy.

“I have a firm, firm belief. We may have to for one generation be willing to sacrifice a very small portion of a coastal sea off the coast of Massachusetts. To launch this new future.”

Cape Wind would generate three-quarters of the electricity used by Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Bill says it’s time for residents here to share in the sacrifice for the energy that drives modern life.

“Consider for just a moment the sacrifice that’s already being made by the thousands of our fellow American citizens who live where their mountains are being removed for coal. Or what about the thousands of American men and women who are serving overseas to protect the places where the oil is that we import? To be honest with you, the 130 turbines of the wind farm, I’d prefer any one of them to one more marker in Arlington National Cemetery.”

“It’s not going to make any difference, this one wind farm.”

Martha Powers is just as passionate about Cape Wind, but she’s against it. She lives by the water, too.

“So this was a summer cottage, my Dad bought it in 1958.”

As a kid, Martha spent summers here. Now she’s a librarian with graying hair. She keeps binoculars by the back porch for birdwatching.

“This project would tear a big hole in that whole web of life there that could never be repaired. It would tear a hole that big under the ocean, all of the animals that live in the ocean beneath that water, and that fly above that water, it would be horrific. I can almost see it, like a bomb, to me, it feels.”

Mainly, Martha’s worried about the birds that will be killed by the spinning blades of the wind turbines. Her Christmas card this year was a photo of a chickadee perched on her finger.

“When you feel those little feet on your hand, trusting. It’s an amazing experience. So to kill them is just such a horrible thought. That’s the hardest thing for me to accept about this project.”

A few miles away, Cape Wind supporter Bill Eddy says it would be hard for him to accept the project not going forward.

“I know, I just know that, in a year or so, I’ll be able to go out to the wind farm. The wind in my sails and the winds in the blades of the turbine, that something very old and something very new is bringing about a most wondrous evolution.”

Whether that evolution starts off of Cape Cod will be up to someone in Washington. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the nation will move ahead with wind farms off the East Coast. But since people like Bill Eddy and Martha Powers can’t agree, Salazar will decide whether Nantucket Sound is the right place to start.

For The Environment Report, I’m Curt Nickisch.

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Cap and Dividend

  • The CLEAR act was designed to avoid a carbon trading platform susceptible to market manipulation and price volatility. (Photo courtesy of FutureAtlas CC-2.0)

A new study looks at how big of a check you might get under a bi-partisan climate change bill. The CLEAR Act (Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal) is better known around Washington as the cap-and-dividend plan. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A new study looks at how big of a check you might get under a bi-partisan climate change bill. The CLEAR Act (Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal) is better known around Washington as the cap-and-dividend plan. Lester Graham reports…

This plan would tax fossil fuels at the source, whether a tanker or foreign oil coming into port or coal coming out of a mine. 25-percent of that money would be used to invest in cleaner alternative energies. The other 75-percent… would be paid at a flat rate to each person in the nation in a monthly check to offset higher energy prices.

James Boyce at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is one of the authors of the new report. He says for most people that monthly check will more than cover the higher costs of fossil fuels.

“So for the typical family, they’ll be paying more in higher prices on the one hand and they’ll be getting back a dividend check on the other hand.”

Boyce says since people in the highest income brackets tend to use a lot more energy, they’ll actually come up a little short on the deal.

This cap-and-dividend plan also has fewer loopholes to be exploited by special interests.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Biomass Power’s Footprint (Part 2)

  • The future site of Russell Biomass Power Plant is already used as storage space for chips that are sold to another biomass operation.(Photo courtesy of Shawn Allee)

Biomass power is the new-fangled alternative energy source that uses a pretty old technology: basically, you just burn plants, usually wood, for electrical power.

Many states are looking into biomass power because they have plenty of wood and sometimes wind or solar farms meet resistance from neighbors.

For a while, Massachussetts looked like it would give biomass power a big boost.
Shawn Allee found the state could change its mind:

Transcript

Biomass power is the new-fangled alternative energy source that uses a pretty old technology: basically, you just burn plants, usually wood, for electrical power.

Many states are looking into biomass power because they have plenty of wood and sometimes wind or solar farms meet resistance from neighbors.

For a while, Massachussetts looked like it would give biomass power a big boost.
Shawn Allee found the state could change its mind.

A guy named John Bos gives me a tour of an old lumber mill.

It’s in Western Massachussetts, in a town called Russell.
The mill’s almost in ruins.

“So you can see this … it looks like movie set out of a bad , bad-guy movie.”

“Definitely. Watch your footing there .. ”

This factory used to turn wood into lumber, charcoal and paper.

Bos’ brother and other investors want to give the place a new life … but wood will still play a key role.

“We are walking into the site of what will be Russell Biomass.”

The Russell biomass plant would be a power station that burns wood to generate electricity.

It’d burn through half a million tons of wood each year.

And if you think that’s a lot of trees going up in smoke, Bos says the plant will use mostly waste wood.

“Our wood will come from discarded pallets, stump removal from development. Road side trimming. Every year there’s road-side trimming to keep utility lines clear. There’s a lot of waste wood out there.”

This is controversial talk in Western Massachussetts.

Critics of biomass power don’t trust the idea that local supplies of “waste wood” will hold out since investors are planning five biomass power plants.

Chris Matera is one critic.
Matera shows me what he fears could happen if projects like Russell Biomass come through.

He takes me to forest that surrounds a long, thin reservoir.

The forest filters rainwater and keeps the reservoir clean and clear.
The reservoir happens to supply water to the Boston metro area.
Anyway, Matera shows me there’s logging here.

“We’re looking at big stumps and rutted out muddy areas on a steep slope that actually dr ain into the watershed eventually. It’s not gonna help the water quality. This is a place you’re not even allowed to cross-country ski to protect the watershed. A lot of places you’re not even allowed to hike.”

These trees were NOT cut for biomass power, but Matera fears new biomass plants will use up cheap waste wood …
Then, they’d resort to logging like this to keep producing electricity.
And the water quality in reservoirs, streams and rivers would suffer.

There’s been plenty of heat between biomass proponents and their critics.

One sticking point is whether Massachussetts should subsidize biomass power in the same way it does other renewable power sources, like wind and solar.

The state hired an outside consulting group called Manomet to help it decide.

“We’ve been asked by the state of Massachusetts to answer some basic fundamental questions about woody biomass energy.”

John Hagan is Manomet’s president.
Hagan’s supposed to answer whether there’s enough waste wood or any kind of wood to supply biomass plants planned for Massachussetts.

He says his group’s not entirely finished, but …

“I think if four, fifty megawatt plants went in, they’d almost certainly have to pull wood from beyond the boundaries of the State of Massachusetts.”

Hagan says this doesn’t necessarily mean forests in the state will suffer … his group’s not finished with its report, after all.

But he thinks it’s good Massaschussetts is questioning whether biomass deserves extra financial help.

Hagan says states are subsidizing biomass without thinking through all the effects … not just on local jobs … but also forests, and local air and water pollution.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Is Wood Biomass Just Blowing Smoke? (Part 1)

  • President of Manomet consulting group John Hagan says the bottom line is that biomass can be carbon neutral ... if subsidies and policies are precise.(Photo courtesy of Shawn Allee)

State governments often mandate power companies to buy alternative energy.
They figure it’s worth having everyone buck up and pay extra since these don’t contribute carbon dioxide emissions that change the climate.But what energy sources should make the cut?
Shawn Allee found one is getting lots of scrutiny.

Transcript

State governments often mandate power companies to buy alternative energy.
They figure it’s worth having everyone buck up and pay extra since these don’t contribute carbon dioxide emissions that change the climate.

But what energy sources should make the cut?

Shawn Allee found one is getting lots of scrutiny.

Bob Cleaves heads up the Biomass Power Association.

He spends a lot of time pitching the idea that electricity made by burning wood is worth government help.
After all, he can’t sell the idea of biomass on price.

Electricity generated from wood had to compete with coal and natural gas and it became very difficult to operate these plants on a profitable basis.

Cleaves says other alternative energy sources are expensive, too, but biomass has extra benefits …
He says try running solar panels at night – biomass power plants run 24-7.

But Cleaves admits he’s got explaining to do when it comes to carbon emissions.

You know, from burning wood.

when you burn something you release CO2 …

For years, Cleaves could follow-up with a simple argument.

He’d just run through the carbon cycle idea you might recall from high school.

You know, you burn trees.
That releases CO2.
Then, as trees re-grow, they absorb that same carbon again …

These are carbons that are recycled into the environment in a closed-loop fashion.

This argument often won out.
Many states give biomass from wood subsidies, since they considered it carbon neutral.

The US House came close to doing the same thing last year.

But lately, biomass’ rep got into trouble.

Well, the carbon issue came up in the fall as a result of an article published in Science magazine.

The title of the article was “Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error.”
It challenged the idea that biomass power from wood or anything else is always carbon neutral.

Critics now use the article’s arguments against biomass subsidies.

“This policy is intended to reduce carbon emissions and it’s doing the exact opposite.”

This is Jana Chicoine, an anti-biomass activist from Massachussetts.

She says, sure, trees you cut for power now will grow back and then re-absorb carbon.

But not soon.

“It will create a pulse of carbon emissions that will spike for decades. Policy makers are telling us we are in a carbon crisis and that we have to reduce carbon emissions now.”

So, Chicoine says it makes no sense to subsidize biomass technology.

It’s going to harm public policy on clean energy. Those funds should be going to the truly valuable contributors to the energy problem like wind and solar, conservation and efficiency.

Well, Chicoine and other biomass critics won a temporary victory in Massachusetts.

The state was leaning toward subsidizing biomass power, but it held off a final decision.

It’s waiting for advice from an environmental consulting group called Manomet.

President John Hagan says people expect a simple answer: would a biomass industry in Massachusetts be carbon neutral or not?

“The last thing you want to hear a scientist say is, it’s complicated, but I’m afraid it is in this case.”

The latest research suggests some biomass power operations can be carbon neutral while others won’t be.

The best operations would use tree trimmings or waste wood like sawdust. That keeps more trees in the ground … absorbing carbon.

Biomass power plants prefer to use waste wood anyway, since it’s cheap.
But Hagan says maybe more biomass plants will all chase the same scrap wood.

Prices will rise … and suddenly standing trees start looking cheaper.

It’s like a puzzle, when you push on one piece, eighteen other things move.

Hagan says the bottom line is that biomass can be carbon neutral … if subsidies and policies are precise.
He says policies should work like scalpels.

But often, they’re simple … and work more like big axes.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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